Last August, on a perfect late-summer afternoon, thousands of locals and cycling enthusiasts from across the globe flocked to downtown Colorado Springs for an occasion to remember.
They shared the thrill of watching Stage 5 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge, with many of the world’s best cyclists starting in Breckenridge, climbing Hoosier Pass, speeding across South Park, over Wilkerson Pass, then flying down Ute Pass into Colorado Springs.
But the best part of that stage was the finish, with the cyclists making three circuits up Cascade Avenue to Colorado College, over to Tejon Street and down through the city’s heart. In the end, Tyler Farrar and Taylor Phinney streaked down Tejon the final time with Farrar prevailing in a dramatic closing sprint.
The crowd, worked into a frenzy by hours of partying and watching the race on monster-screen monitors, gave NBC Sports some of its best footage in 31 hours of coverage through the seven stages. The euphoria continued on for hours into the night, as the city forgot about its nightmarish summer so dominated by the Waldo Canyon fire. And the influx of free-spending visitors helped replenish some segments of the local economy.
But all that enthusiasm turned to exasperation four months later when the USA Pro Challenge organizers announced their 2013 race schedule — and Colorado Springs wasn’t included.
We’ll have to watch from afar this August, as the cyclists traverse several mountain routes, then race from Loveland to Fort Collins before the final day in Denver, which will “steal” the theme of circuits (laps) that worked so well in Colorado Springs.
But there’s a positive side to this. Very positive. Through no fault of its own, Colorado Springs lost our best one-day economic booster shot of 2011 and 2012. But if you think that means we’ll suffer as a result, especially now that we’re dealing with more fires, think again.
We still have the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, gearing up for its 91st running on Sunday, June 30. Last year’s Race to the Clouds waas postponed from July to August by the fire. Then it had to be shortened because of foul weather, ending its chance for a torrent of records in its first year with an all-paved surface over the entire 12.42-mile course.
This time, with more manufacturers pumping money into their vehicles and more celebrity drivers from points afar coming to compete, the Hill Climb has an excellent chance to obliterate its record book. And the traditional downtown Fan Fest on Friday has established itself as a bigger draw than the race itself, because of the limited space on the mountain.
Then comes July, with the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo followed by the Rocky Mountain State Games spread over two weekends (July 19-21 and 26-28), attracting its usual throngs of everyman entrants. And on Friday, July 26, the city plans another version of the Olympic Downtown Celebration, which galvanized an estimated 25,000 or more people last year when it coincided with the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Even without the “real” Olympics this time, that lure should be strong as ever, along with athletes from the State Games.
There’s another extraordinary occasion coming in August. On Aug. 10-11, former Olympic, world, national and professional champions of figure skating will gather for the Broadmoor Skating Club’s 75th anniversary gala celebration.
And just a week after that, many of the world’s best mountain runners will be here, thanks to the financial incentives of the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon.
Think about it: How many other cities without major pro sports have a summer schedule anything like that — even after losing an event as big as the USA Pro Challenge? The answer, of course, is zero. We also can’t forget the Sky Sox, still a great and inexpensive way to spend a summery evening.
Is there a way to capitalize more on what we already have? Sure. If the concept of an Olympic Hall of Fame museum becomes reality, Colorado Springs will have its own version of a year-round sports cathedral. Having a venue as special as that would bring the potential for even more events in years to come (but that’s a column for another time).
You’ll notice that we haven’t even mentioned Air Force football, with Notre Dame coming to visit this fall, or the Colorado Springs Sports Corp.’s annual Football Kickoff Luncheon on June 19 with all the head coaches from Air Force, Colorado, Colorado State, CSU-Pueblo and Northern Colorado.
There’s also the strong likelihood of the USA Pro Challenge returning in 2014, with plans already afoot for a possible route.
But at this point, it’s not as though Colorado Springs has to bring back the cycling or else.
Sometimes, after all, it’s better to just feel good about everything that we know will always come back, year after year.